Hang Cool Teddy Bear

Meat Loaf’s latest album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear, has been out since April 16th, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

If it had been a complete disaster, an utter train wreck of ill-conceived ideas and cliched songs, it would have been easy. If this album had been a spectacular return to form, a masterpiece that made me forget that thing called Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose ever happened, well, it would have been easier still. But unfortunately it’s neither this nor that; it’s a little bit of everything and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure.

Hang Cool Teddy Bear tries very hard not to sound like a typical Meat Loaf album. And that’s good. If there’s one thing that Bat III proved beyond a doubt, it’s that the world can very well do without mr. Loaf trying to sound like Meat Loaf. He either has to get Jim Steinman involved and go all the way, or do something completely different. And he seems to get that:

I don’t want that wall of sound; I don’t want those wall of backgrounds. I want it organic; I want it clean. I want it big, I want the arrangements big; I want the arrangements to be different. I don’t want it piano-based – I want it guitar-based.

Has he succeeded? Well, the thundering piano’s are gone, there are loads of guitars—in fact, there are seven (that’s right, 7!) different guitarists on “Love Is Not Real,” including Steve Vai and Brian May—the album as a whole sounds fantastic (but it’s ridiculously loud), and mr. Loaf himself sounds better, much better than I thought possible. Ok, so after those concerts I saw in 2007/’08 my expectations were very low, but I was very much surprised. I don’t know how producer Rob Cavallo coerced these vocals out of him (or how much auto tune was used), but chapeau!

But if you really don’t want to sound like your old self, you need to have some awesome songs too. And while some songs are indeed awesome (“Living on the Outside”, “Song of Madness” and large chunks of “Love Is Not Real/Next Time You Stab Me in the Back”), others are not as strong (“Like a Rose”, “If It Rains” and the Jessica Simpson cover “Did You Ever Love Somebody”) or, in a word, inoffensive. Take the first single, Los Angeloser: it’s inoffensive in every possible way. It’s a valiant attempt at trying not sounding like “Anything for Love” or “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” at all, but it leaves me completely cold and does nothing for me.

Another thing that is quite different, is the quality of the lyrics. While they aren’t as vapid as “If God Could Talk,” neither Singin’ na, na, na na, na, na / I won’t change / ‘Cause if it rains, it rains nor La, la, la la, la, la / Runnin’ away from me will win you any awards. If you didn’t know it’s a concept album about a dying soldier is having flash-forwards, seeing what his life could have been like, you wouldn’t miss a thing.

“California Isn’t Big Enough (Hey There Girl)” deserves a special mention for it’s chorus:

I can barely fit my dick in my pants
California isn’t big enough for me
Come on and lend me your hand with my forthcoming release
Because California isn’t big enough for me

That must be about as subtle as giving someone a friendly pat on the back with a sledge hammer.

Anyway. It’s not as if Hang Cool Teddy Bear is a particularly bad album. Far from it. But it isn’t a particular good album either. I just don’t know.

(There’s one more thing I need to discuss about the various edition that have been released, but I’ll save that for another post. update: rant added.)